Up to 2,000 postal workers at seven sorting offices in England are set to strike on Friday of this week against the closures of their mail centres.
Workers in the CWU union at Liverpool, Stockport, Oldham, Crewe, Bolton, Coventry and Oxford will walk out over the plans.
CWU members at Bridgwater delivery office in Somerset are set to strike this Saturday 20 December over plans to replace full-time posts with part-time posts. Two more strike days could follow.
And the CWU’s North East region is in dispute over the implementation of new work practices.
These workers are at the forefront of what is becoming a battle for the future of Royal Mail.
Business secretary Peter Mandelson is set to unveil the first steps towards the privatisation of the post this week.
The Hooper Report on the future of the organisation is expected to say it should enter into joint ventures with private firms such as DHL or TNT.
This is privatisation by stealth and raises the prospect of large scale job losses.
A source close to Lord Mandelson told newspapers, “Our concern is to save the Royal Mail and secure its future, not privatise it. We have a manifesto commitment to a publicly owned Royal Mail and we will not be setting that aside.”
But Mandelson has let it be known that he is in favour of the part-privatisation of the post.
He said earlier this year that Royal Mail should “be progressively private, even if initially part of the company stayed in the government’s hands”.
The Hooper Report is expected to propose that “the universal service” – Royal Mail’s obligation to send post any distance for a flat fee – be removed.
There is deep anger among postal workers over the attacks.
Jane Loftus, the CWU deputy president, told Socialist Worker, “We need a 100 percent publicly owned Royal Mail, not moves towards privatisation.
“It is incredible that, when the government has admitted that the banks need to be owned by the state, there can be the possibility of vital public services being handed to private interests.”
Royal Mail is facing a £7 billion pension deficit and the government should support the pension scheme.
But this should not be at the cost of attacks on jobs or the service. Royal Mail took a pension holiday for more than a decade, which is the main cause of the company’s pension woes.
Everyone should get behind the strikes this week.
The Hooper Report is also likely to recommend the closure of more sorting offices. That gives the strikes at the mail centres threatened now a new importance.
Steve Wright, the Crewe CWU branch secretary, said, “We want to show Royal Mail it can’t just kick us in the teeth.
“There are 600 people in Crewe having their lives turned upside down by their work being transferred to another site.
“They are being expected to travel 40 miles to work and 40 miles back. Those who work mornings and nights are not going to be able to get buses.”
Work from Liverpool will be transferred to a site in Warrington in 2010. This means 600 sorting jobs being lost in the city, leaving it as the only major centre without its own sorting office.
Liverpool CWU branch secretary Mark Walsh said, “It was not until the CWU balloted its members that Royal Mail agreed to meet the union nationally.
“The union was left with no alternative as some managers attempted to move the work out of some of the offices listed for closure before Christmas.”
The government has already climbed down over the Post Office card account. It can be forced to back off from privatisation if there is action.
That means nobody touching the mail from the striking sorting offices. It also means launching a campaign to save the post.
It is CWU policy to ballot its members over the union continuing to donate to the Labour Party if there are any moves towards privatisation.
That ballot should begin now as part of the campaign to save the post from the privateers.
Don’t walk this way
One sign of the way things are heading is management attempts to insist that post workers across the country carry out their deliveries at 4 miles per hour (mph). The previous target was 2.4mph.
Working out the routes on the proposed time will add hours to the working day.
Bob Gibson, the CWU assistant secretary outdoor, said “Royal Mail is using this system to meet financial savings without considering the physical realities of delivery rounds. This is putting pressure on delivery workers.”